An event we didn’t miss, was the ‘Festival Navideño – Atenas Se Ilumina 2011’ in Atenas Centro. And a fiesta it was! Stores ablaze with lights and Christmas decorations were in competition with Papusa, Pizza and Cotton Candy booths, tchotchke vendors, kebab grills, and activity stations offering their goods throughout the main town square and parque, church yard and surrounding streets.
A throng of people toing and froing, children chasing each other, family groups, courting couples, parents with babes-in-arms, abuelitos with grandchildren, and us. The bandstand hosted a variety of musical performances, with El Payasito Torrejitos, clown, magician and comedian, entertaining the children and young at heart during intermissions. Some ex-pats were also part of the activities, like my neighbor Dr. Nansi Swartwout, who performed a selection of seasonal classics with her church choir and delighted her listeners with a lovely Ave Maria duet. Young students of the ‘Escuela Morazan’ and ‘Su Espacio’ studios excelled with dance recitals to the delight of their proud parents and friends, while musical groups, instrumental or vocal, were vying for ones attention at every turn. As darkness fell, everyone was getting ready for the festival’s coup de resistance, The Parade. The major streets in the center of town had been cordoned off as a parade route, to allow passage of floats, decorated vehicles and representatives of groups and organizations.
The organizers of the festival, the Cámera de Tourismo y Comercio de Atenas, CATUCA, together with the Asociación de Boyeros: Cuna del Boyero Ateniense (Atenas Association of Oxcart Driver: Cradle of herdsmen), chose this years parade theme or tema. To emphasize the importance of water, the source of life, their theme reflected on ‘AGUA – Fuente de Vida’. The CATUCA float featured a waterwheel, traditionally part of processing sugar cane juice. All the hard work of grinding the sugar cane between millstones is done by the boyero with his trusted yunta, his oxen team. There has always been a special relationship between the herdsmen and their carefully selected, lovingly raised and patiently trained animals, a tradition, which continues today. Each yunta is matched for size, temperament, horn shape and hide coloration. Both herdsmen and oxen grow into their respective responsibilities, both receiving their training for several years from experienced boyeros. The maturing herdsman learns to gently lead his team, while the oxen learn to bear the yugo, the yoke and to submit willingly to their boyero’s commands.
Members of CATUCA had spent the day filling small plastic bags with sugar cane juice to throw to the adoring crowds, similar to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras revelers collecting shiny beads thrown from the floats. One CATUCA member, Marietta Arce, allowed me to quote the following observation, an excerpt from her news letter:
“The theme for this year’s Festival was water and its importance to our daily life. The structure that our colleague designed was a watermill driving the mechanical processing of sugar cane for juice. In addition, he had the clever idea of processing the cane a few hours in advance so we could offer small samples as our float made its way through the street of Atenas. The old-fashioned way to process sugar cane, of course, is with a team of oxen, and when I accepted the request to help ‘tie the juice bags’, I had no idea what I was signing up for!
When I arrived at the designated ‘mill’, I heard a man speaking sharply. I thought he was talking to a rebellious worker about to get fired, because I heard: “I have had an extremely difficult day. You know what’s expected of you. You know the work that we need to do today. You know I won’t tolerate your outbursts.” When I realized it was to one of the oxen, my heart melted. In that exact moment, I understood really for the first time the kind of bond that takes place in this tradition we call ‘boyeo’.”
Just reading Marietta’s account touched me, too!
But back to our parade, after a lengthy wait to get all those parade ducks in a row, the evening’s main event was opening with ear-splitting noise. The first two entries, representing the countries fabulous emergency services, EMS and Firefighters, didn’t go easy on their vehicles’ siren systems!!
In keeping with the water tema, the float of the Municipalidad Atenas was decorated with ocean creatures. A pretty mermaid reigned supreme, while a buccaneer steered the float.
After a succession of marching bands and majorettes, where children of all ages, representing several local schools, performed beautifully, more floats, groups and entertainment slowly filed through the streets of Atenas to the delight of the crowds lining the sidewalks and curbs, the small hills of the parque and the generous stairs of the courthouse, and any other elevation to be found.
We had captured a stone bench at the parks margin early on, and I was alternating with standing on the seat (or jumping up and down on the seat like a mad woman, to attract the attention of a boyero on the float, who finally tossed a juice bag in my direction, which was caught by the young man standing next to our bench. He very courteously handed me my very first sugar cane juice sample – delicious) or sitting on the very narrow backrest until my back screamed. At the point, when that screaming could no longer be ignored, we reluctantly left the festivities behind and trekked across town for our car to return home. We missed many of the parade participants and the fire works display, but nevertheless, we enjoyed such a wonderful afternoon.
Thank you Atenas, thank you to all the organizations who contributed to the event and a huge ¡Gracias! to everyone, who worked so hard to give the whole community a truly memorable day!
|Boyeros Atenienses and CATUCA members throwing cane juice baggies into the crowd